黄鶯睍睆, read as kōōkenkan or uguisunaku, “the uguisu sings”, is the second of the 72 micro-seasons. The uguisu is a Japanese bush warbler (often mistranslated as nightingale) that begins its beautiful courtship singing early in the spring, and when you hear the uguisu song for the first time, you pause and sigh, “Ah, spring is here!” The weather is still cold and leaves have yet to appear, but the buds are forming, fully of promise.
The seasonal plant is komatsuna 小松菜 (Brassica rapa var. perviridis), “Japanese mustard spinach.” Because this vegetable appears at about this time, it is also called uguisuna, “bush warbler spinach.”
Komatsu actually means small pine, but the name has nothing to do with pine trees. The name comes from the Komatsu River and a story about where it was first found growing and named. According to legend, in around 1719, after hunting in the area of Komatsu River, in Edogawa, the shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune came to Shinkoiwa Katori Shrine, where he was served a delicious soup made with mochi and a fresh spicy spinach that grew locally. So delighted with the tangy soup, Yoshimune named the vegetable “komatsuna” and ordered the mustard greens to be sent to his home. This event is commemorated every New Year at the Shinkoiwa Katori Shrine, with visitors given bunches of komatsuna for good luck in the coming year.
Komatsuna is very nutritious, high in dietary fibre, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. The mustard flavoured leaves can be eaten at any stage of growth, with the younger leaves a little less peppery than the older ones, and suited to being eaten raw in a salad. Komatsuna can be stir-fried, pickled, added to soup, or simply boiled or steamed, and is popularly paired with thick-cut aburaage.
Recipe: Komatsuna & aburaage tofu
Komatsuna 1 bunch, about 200g
Aburaage 1 sheet
Dashi (made with konbu and shiitake) 1/2 cup
Soy sauce 1 Tbsp
Mirin 1 Tbsp
Sugar 1 tsp
Mix together the dashi, soy, mirin and sugar and put into a saucepan.
Rinse the komatsuna thoroughly and chop into 3-4cm wide pieces, including the stalks.
Pour boiling water over the aburaage to remove the excess oil and then pat dry with a paper towel, then cut into 1cm strips.
Heat the broth until just simmering.
Add the komatsuna and aburaage to the broth, mix thoroughly and simmer for just 30 seconds, until heated through. Turn off the heat and serve immediately.
The wagashi (Japanese sweet) that is associated with this season is the very popular uguisumochi, which is also sometimes referred to as hatsune 初音, first song. As indicated in the name, uguisumochi is red bean paste encased in mochi; however, hatsune can also be made with gyūhi, a more refined mochi, mixed with white bean paste, which enables the shape and features of the bird to be molded.